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Non-Prog CD Reviews

Tommy James

Hi-Fi

Review by Gary Hill

This is a new reissue of a Tommy James album from 1990. James’ performances are great. The album on the other hand is just good. That’s because it’s very much a product of its era. During the 1980s there was a certain sound that became the trend. It had slick production, smooth jazz arrangements and a rhythm section that often sounded synthetic. I’m sure at the time some record executive was convinced that they’d have a huge hit by applying that kind of hit machine process to a rock star like Tommy James. Well, they forgot that James was a rock star – not some adult contemporary artist. So, the resulting album has a lot of songs that are definitely tied completely to that kind of 1980s sound. There are several pieces here that work pretty well, despite that. Additionally, some of these would be great if they were redone in a more traditional Tommy James format.

This review is available in book format (hardcover and paperback) in Music Street Journal: 2014  Volume 2 at lulu.com/strangesound.

Track by Track Review
Go

There’s a real tropical vibe to the rhythm section on this cut. The whole mix makes me think of 1980s music in a lot of ways. This is good catchy fun.

Burnin' For You
Take that same kind of 1980s vibe and blend it with something more in keeping with vintage Tommy James and you’ll have a good idea of what this song sounds like. It’s more substantial than the opener was. It’s still catchy, too.
Annie Come Knockin'
After a keyboard dominated introduction, this works out to a fast paced pop rock sound that’s quite effective. This still has a lot of those 1980s trappings, but is less tied to that era than the two openers were. It’s a lot of fun.
Ordinary Girl
This ballad is definitely a product of the 1980s style song writing and production. That said, the keyboard heavy arrangement is great and it’s an excellent piece of music as far as I’m concerned.
You Take My Breath Away
A mid-tempo rocker that is branded 1980s, this is a good tune despite feeling 80s. The guitar solo is tasty and I love the acoustic guitar that comes in later, too.
What Kind of Love (Do You Want)
I’d love to hear this song redone. That’s because the vocal hooks and the general song structure are great. The arrangement and production are so caught up that slick 80s sound, though, that it’s hard for this to stand tall. I’d love to hear a more classic version of this thing.
Heartbeat in the Night
This manages to stand pretty tall despite that generic 1980s sound. For one thing, it’s got more energy. Also the saxophone solo is a great touch.
Love You Too Much
Still set in that adult contemporary meets jazz sound, the vocal performance on this thing really makes it shine. This is one of the better pieces here.
Backtrack
The closing tune is more of a rocker and that’s a good thing.
 
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